Military Budget Cuts ‘Could Raise Tensions’

Burmese armed forces soldier on parade. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

The Burmese government must address the ever-reducing income of its armed forces to stave off tensions in the country which until recently was ruled by a military junta, claims a political expert.

The armed forces, officially referred to as the Tatmadaw, “are finding it difficult to get rations and things, so they need more resources from the budget,” Dr. Tin Maung Maung Than, a senior research fellow at the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

In the fiscal year 2012-2013, the government aims to reduce the military’s funding to 14.5 percent of total expenditures, from 23.5 percent in the previous year, notwithstanding an undisclosed defense fund. President Thein Sein has also ordered the Tatmadaw to rein in unpopular arbitrary taxation used to generate extra income in ethnic border areas, said Tin Maung Maung Than.

“The commander-in-chief [Vice-Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing] has also stopped the military business even in the central areas, except the two big companies that have been formed legally,” he added, alluding to the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and Myanmar Economic Corporation Ltd.

“There has to be some kind of quid pro quo between the civilian lawmakers, who want to cut the budget, and the military, who wants to expand its operational budget, because of these problems,” he said.

The scholar, who wrote the book State Dominance in Myanmar: The Political Economy of Industrialization, points to the possibility of cutting down the number of units within the armed forces to reduce its financial footprint.

“In the past, the retired officers would go to civil service,” said Tin Maung Maung Than. “But many of the army officers parachuted into civil servant positions are not fit for the job. Will the private sector absorb them? I don’t know.”

“The question of cutting down the army size is not a simple one,” said the academic, who has established ties to the higher echelons of the military leadership. “Once it’s grown, it’s very hard to cut down.” The Tatmadaw is generally understood to have an active force of 350,000 troops.

Tin Maung Maung Than does not see a military coup as a likely outcome to the quagmire. “I don’t think generals want to get themselves into ruling a country that has been opening up. It is not easy to rule this country by force anymore.”

However, “it is best that the democrats don’t push the military leadership to a corner,” he warned. “I would rather have that kind of directional change than one that upsets the whole balance.”

Tin Maung Maung Than sees the Tatmadaw still very present in Parliament after the next general election in 2015, even though perhaps at a lower ratio than the current 25 percent prescribed in the 2008 Constitution. There would also likely be less military officers in ministerial positions, he added.

“Ex-military officers will not be taking off their uniforms and instantly shooting into these places,” he said. “They might take part in elections as Union and Solidarity Party candidates and become politicians in their own way first.”

The expert saw Monday’s cabinet reshuffle of nine ministers by Thein Sein, in which 15 new vice-ministerial positions were also added to the inner circle, as “half-a-step forward.” The move has been largely interpreted as a push to accelerate the president’s reform agenda.

“It will be difficult to carry such a big cabinet,” he said. “If you want to make a drastic change, it means you are condemning the original group, which more or less has been put in place by the previous regime, which means you are condemning the previous regime. No one wants to do that at the top.

“A lot of people will say that it wasn’t enough, but there will always be people like that.”

Tin Maung Maung Than shared his views with The Irrawaddy after giving a lecture at Chiang Mai University titled “The Tatmadaw and Myanmar Reforms: The Elephant in the Room” which was held under the Chatham House Rule, not allowing for attribution of anything said during the lecture itself.

16 Responses to Military Budget Cuts ‘Could Raise Tensions’

  1. When Ne Win nationalized all private companies and placed them under the management of his unskilled army officers, Gross Domestic Products(GDP) went down rapidly. It was caused by two reasons:

    1. Military officers were unskilled businessmen.
    2. Military officers were not serious enough for the outcome since the profits do not belong to them directly.

    We all know that many military men and women need to retire because Democratic Myanmar no longer need hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Instead of the rule of guns and bullets, the rule of law is now a must. Send the soldiers home with fair benefits including pension to feed their families.

  2. Army has already known that they will have smaller buget in future as it was briefed by Gen. Than Shwe to them. In fact, 23.5% mean 1/4 of the total budget which were used to buy military hard wares. The present 14.5% may be more than enough for them. I don’ think there will be tension between the government and military.

  3. George Than Setkyar Heine

    This is Than Shwe’s ploy – game plan – since day one.
    Cripple the armed forces for the better; no need to make the army rich as he no longer holds the reins (directly) as well.
    Make himself, his cronies and underlings rich while holding the reins of the country – via the likes of Thein Sein and others – is his master stroke in this game no less.
    A powerful and rich army is hard to handle for him he knows in the first place.
    Hence, he and his cronies took all the wealth and property with them to the other side of the fence.
    And a weak, starved, ill-equipped and broke – moneyless – army has no choice but to dance to his tune only of course.

  4. There is an old story: the uniformed people think with their knees and not their brains, because after doing much march past, they are apt to follow orders from above without having a knowledge on the situation. This is painfully true in Burma. Though they want to make a cut, where will the excess persons go? Can the state give them employment opportunities? can they be made to work in fields, to produce rice and grains? Or what? Burma is not an industrialized country and there are hardly any opportunity for them. Then what about all those lands confiscated in these years? Many have been turned into garrisons with virtually empty sheds, turning into ghost towns. The story will never end; the failure to check the western border is proof enough that Burma has failed to take care of its own hedges, let alone perform as a military machine. The two sided sword being ‘bureaucracy’ inside the big military machine that works at a snails’ pace, and lack of skilled fighters and modern equipment. the reconnaissance capability supported by India and China hardly works along Bangla border. There are hundreds and probably thousands of people crossing to and from Bangladesh along these porous lines, though recently there have been some actions by BGB, which is few and far between. Such a situation will compound the situation and if Burma does not open up in its real sense and stick to the old ‘rule by order’ there will be little hope for a flourishing democracy taking shape.

  5. Speaking of military budgets, no one ever talks openly about how the various (and numerous) ethnic militia groups in Burma are funded. Where the money and the weapons come from can explain a lot of what’s really going on behind the scenes. Without armed conflicts (and ethnic conflicts), there would be no refugees and all these “human rights people” can go home (isn’t that what most Burmese want in Arakan State?)
    The existence of ethnic armed groups and the (now disbanded) communist insurgents (people might have forgotten that Thakin Than Tun was actually Aung San’s bother-in-law!) is the main reason why the size of the Burmese army grew and most importantly is the “official” reason given by Ne Win for military rule (“to protect Sovereignty and to prevent disintegration of the Union”). If the next military coup happens, this will still be the main reason. Just ask Than Shwe or Chit Hlaing (the red flag communist)
    Ironically, the power of the Burmese military comes from armed opposition against the central government. As long as there are armed groups fighting against the central government (for whatever reasons: ideological, economical, racial, …, I don’t really care) the “Tatmadaw” will remain a powerful political force in Burma (at least until the country disintegrates and the UWSA becomes the strongest military force in Burma lol)
    Hey, I read books by Robert taylor, who is Tin Maung Maung Than’s “mentor” (as I said earlier, you have to know which side your bread is buttered!)

  6. This Amy has teeth and is battle tested; unfortunately with it’s own kind; but still a good Army; they need to be given a chance with the changing tide of times.

  7. About time the elephant left the room. Actually a monstrous parasite that is trying its best to suck the host dry for as long as it can but now with a mind to keep it alive and fattened up a bit. Something to look forward to for some of us from the if-you-can’t-fight-’em-join-’em brigade I’m sure.

    • Don’t forget the people LOVE the military. They celebrate the “Hlaut-taw”. They kowtow Thein Sein, the Bodhithatta.

      It is real life “Ba-du-ma Paung-to”. Sick and sad.

  8. Why do we need that big a military which is a strain in the country’s budget?

    • Because they OWN the country while jubilant loonies celebrate this “astonishing democracy” or “unparalleled, amazing reform” or whatever they feel in their insane feeble minds happy to call.

    • So that we keep mischief makers like China and India away; never mind the little tigers around you and who surrounds you, who want to claw you and me to death da! You are so naïve or just a sweet person – are you?

  9. Cutting military budget is the only way we can squeeze military power. The Burmese military were enjoying the country wealth for more than two decades. They believed they can do any thing they like. Now is the time to cut their budget. It’s not too late. Their job is guarding the country not swallow the country’s budget. Above Colonel rank were became multimillionare and Captain to Major ranks were became millionare in Burese Army. Their time have to be limit. The country could not go they way they want. Enough is enough.

  10. ‘Political expert’ Tin Maung Maung Than may want to review his research. As a matter of fact, military expenditure for FY 2012-13 went up by over 50% compared to FY 2011-12. That’s in the budget approved by Burma’s Parliament in March.

    • He of course knows. Just still not enough. Now the Americans want to cosy up, Burma will have to pay more for real guns that do shoot, and F 16 rather than crappy Belarus second-hand Mig’s. Oh, and those sunglasses, and drones.

      They already got the “Git-mo” Orange prisoner dresses and new chains for some chosen ones for “media” pic’s.

  11. It is indeed getting curiouser and curiouser, this reform game.

    According to Maurine Aung Thwin, a Soros employee, getting the army smaller or less budget-y would be a sign of real “reform” which is really a necessary make up word for selling and buying the rich resources and dirt cheap, unregulated labour of these backward people who soon going to be landless and profusely inoculated with sacred “western culture” via TV, Coke commercials and in due course McDonald.

    Meanwhile with silent blessing of some Karen and Shan and Bamar “democratic opposition”, the Bamar Sit-tut can go on to rape, pillage, destroy, torture and kill- in other words business as usual only more extensive- the Kachin. Oh, Karen as well if one is to believe the Physicians for Human Rights.

    Now according to yet another “scholar” these poor rapists are in short of money and people must pay more on top of all the looting and stealing of forests, gems, minerals, gold, fish, gas and oh -yes- that car permit and land permit licence fees as well as looting on the ground in “battle zone’ none of which are started by anyone else but the Honourable Bamar’s Tatmadaw.

    Very inconsiderate Burmese people! Tut-tut.

    Happy Reforms!

  12. Many soldiers and officers want to leave the military but they are not allowed. They should be given to choose their future freely. Government and military must fully cooperate in the process of rebuilding the country. We have already been too late to reform the country, why we are attached in the selfishness of immature behavior. We should be serious to adapt our opinion for the good of people.

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